Since 2015, ongoing conflict in Yemen has led to what the United Nations (UN) describes as the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” Armed conflict resulted in the displacement of millions, caused a deep economic crisis and led to a widespread food insecurity crisis. More than 80 per cent of the country’s population is at risk of hunger and disease. The COVID-19 pandemic is set to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis, with some estimates predicting 17 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. This represents the largest food insecure population in the world.
According to the 2020 Ecological Threat Register (ETR), Yemen is considered a resource scarcity hotspot, facing high exposure to all three resource depletion indicators measured in the ETR — water stress, food security and population growth — and with low resilience to respond to such threats.
The UN estimates that approximately 17.8 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation, while 19.7 million lack access to adequate health care. Heavy rains and intense floods have disrupted access to safe drinking water and sanitation services, creating ideal conditions for the spread of water-borne diseases, namely cholera and dengue fever.
Ongoing conflict and ecological threats led to widespread displacement across Yemen. Since 2015, over 3.4 million new displacements were recorded as a result of conflict, while disasters, mainly floods, resulted in 177,000 new displacements.
Since 2000, the majority of water incidents have taken place in Yemen, Iraq and India. All three countries suffer from high or extreme water stress and are among the least peaceful countries in 2020, as measured by the Global Peace Index.
The COVID-19 pandemic will intensify the impacts of the ongoing conflict and recurring ecological threats in Yemen. These can be categorised by fragilities in the Positive Peace Pillars:
According to the ETR, countries that face a high number of ecological threats and do not have the socio-economic resilience to meet them will find it particularly difficult to protect their populations and economic infrastructure. The report’s analysis identified 31 hotspots for ecological stress. These are nations that combine high numbers of threats, low or very low levels of Positive Peace and an inability to improve Positive Peace meaningfully. Over one billion people that live in these hotspots are particularly vulnerable to ecological threats.
The 31 hotspot countries include Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Chad, Tajikistan and Yemen. These countries have very low resilience and are already experiencing adverse effects from ongoing conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic. Without strong improvements in Positive Peace, the lack of coping capacity in these countries could lead to worsening food insecurity, civil unrest, mass displacement and competition over resources.